AAS Swatches

Creating a High Quality Free Audio Plugins Shortlist (part 1)

One of the things we’re trying to pull together behind the scenes is a comprehensive, high quality bumper pack of multi platform software that can be used free of charge. We’ll be warming things up on the tips and tutorials front when it comes to specific software, but I’d really like to be able to make guides that use the same thing that you use so that you can follow along really easily, and maybe even share project files and presets with you too. As a taster, here’s a quick list of some of the things we’ve uncovered…

Native Instruments Reaktor Player is a free download from NI that allows Reaktor instruments to be loaded without owning the full version of Reaktor – and some Reaktor instruments are free too! The most impressive might be Carbon 2, included in the free Factory Selection pack, a solid subtractive synth that could even be used as your workhorse instrument.

Applied Acoustic Systems AAS Player is a simple sound bank player, and AAS are behind some of the best acoustic and analogue modelling software in the business.

AAS are behind some of the best acoustic and analogue modelling software in the business

Weighing in at just 6MB, AAS Player has 80 sounds, which are presets taken from products in the AAS stable – and thus sound fantastic.

Audio Damage Rough Rider is a compressor that can be used to create fiercely pumping audio. It’s not by any means a compressor that handles signals with grace and subtlety, but for that balls-to-the-wall effect it works really well.

Brainworx Cleansweep is a free filter, simply featuring low and high pass filters that can be operated by separate knobs or, for quick control, a joystick. The ability to switch between four settings and the superb quality mean it’s a shoe in for a main channel filter for mixing your channels.

Camel Audio CamelCrusher is a simple but effective audio distortion plugin.

used just right CamelCrusher can seriously thicken up drums and bass sounds

It’s sensitive, and has quite a bright sound, but used just right it can seriously thicken up drums and bass sounds.

Arto Vaarala Kirnu is a very usable yet powerful MIDI arpeggiator. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful arps we’ve laid eyes on, with everything from automated steps to a step sequencer, swing and gate functions, MIDI learn built in, and it’s all built into a simple interface.

That should keep you going for a little while – if you have any particular favourites do let us know! Oh, and if you’re not already, make sure you’ve Liked our Facebook page so that we can keep giving you tips, tutorials, free stuff and more inspiration!


Review: Sugarbytes Turnado

The world of effects gets more exciting by the day. Gone are the days when rackmounted devices, real springs and actual tapes were needed for the effects we take for granted today, and most of us now use software plugins for our effects. With computer power hurtling along at a frightening rate, having eight effects in a slot which would, as little as a few years ago, struggled to cope with one, the way we think about effects has taken on a whole new dimension. Turnado from Sugarbytes has two aims: create mindbogglingly complex effects chains, and make them super simple to use. Does it succeed?


PC: Windows XP+, Mac OSX 10.4+, runs VST, AU, and Standalone.


  • Unbelievable tweaking capabilities
  • Great sounding filters
  • Superb GUI

  • One of the more expensive recent plugins
  • Distortion options slightly limited
Price at review: €139/$179

Turnado is a no brainer purchase if you need effects that evolve and give your productions an organic unpredictability…

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Rather than a single effect, Turnado is a rack with slots for eight effects to be loaded at one time. It gives us a choice of 24, and those 24 fall into eight basic types: delay, phase, reverb, ring mod, distortion, loop, granulation, and filtering. Each type has at least two different effects to choose from, and each effect has four unique parameters which can be controlled by two LFOs and an envelope follower.

We found the modulation system really easy to understand

We found the modulation system really easy to understand; the main screen for Turnado shows us eight large knobs, one for each effect, and by going into the deep editor for each effect you can set the ratio by which the big knob affects every other knob. You can also select from a number of ramp shapes for the knob to follow, allowing a linear adjustment, a curve that starts off shallow and then becomes steep, and so on. Because the LFO can already be modulating the parameters of the effect and then the big knob can change that relationship on top of that, Turnado’s effects sound absolutely fantastic and very organic when tweaked.

Tweaking really is the name of the game with Turnado

Tweaking really is the name of the game with Turnado, and whilst its effects do sound good when just left to be static, you’d be missing a trick if you weren’t using them to create evolving sounds. The order in which the effects are chained can be set one of two ways: linearly, from bank one to eight, or dynamically according to the order in which they are activated. This choice can make or break a patch, and Sugarbytes have again considered the implications of potentially complex patches by allowing drag and drop swapping between the banks.

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Steinberg Halion 4

Steinberg Release HALion 4

Steinberg have just released the latest version of their flagship software sampler, HALion 4.

a big addition to HALion 4 is a virtual analogue synth

if you use any other Steinberg hardware or software, you’ll likely be interested in the improved integration with the rest of the Steinberg suite, including drag and drop connectivity between Halion and Cubase and Wavelab, VST 3.5 support, and automatic assignments to hardware.

The new interface, which revolves around separating the software window into various ‘editors’, looks very flexible – giving you the ability to set up the placement of the various elements of the software as you see fit, including saving various screens to switch between for different uses.

The other big addition to HALion 4 is a virtual analogue synth within the sampler, which gives it a real USP and should seriously increase its ‘all in one’ usefulness whilst simultaneously giving it an extra tool to spar with the gigantic library that comes with Native Instruments’ Kontakt 4, which dwarfs HALion’s 15GB collection (which includes the entire HALion Sonic library).

HALion 4 is available digitally now, and shipping very soon, for £295. More information and a review to follow…

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Review: Cableguys Curve

Curve, by Cableguys, is at first glance a utilitarian looking, grey and white subtractive synthesiser. In reality, it has a ton of sound design possibilities and a few unique features… but how does it sound?

Manufacturer: Cableguys

Price: €119/$159

Compatibility: Mac/PC, VST/AU host


UPDATE: On the 17th July 2011 Curve 1.4 was released, and adds in the monophonic options that we lamented the lack of in this review. Take a look at our news release for the full skinny, and read on for the rest of the review!


One of Curve’s big features is its waveform drawing capability

One of Curve’s big features is its waveform drawing capability. You can design up to ten waveforms in a patch, and draw the waveform itself with up to twenty node points. A really nifty thing happens when you alter the waveform; in the background, a bar chart indicates the harmonics and their amplitude in real time as you alter the curve. You don’t have to create all your waveforms from scratch of course, there are presets for sine, square, triangle and pulse ready and waiting, but it’s a great way to get an individual sounding patch and also learn a little bit more about the science behind sound design while you play.

The filter section has a bunch of settings, spread over 6dB, 12dB, and 24dB per octave cut off sharpness. All have a low and high pass setting, 24dB has band pass, and 12dB has band pass, notch and peak settings too. Resonance is really smooth, and screams tastefully at high settings.

Resonance is really smooth, and screams tastefully at high settings

There’s no way to change the routing of the oscillators and filters. The sum of the oscillators goes into filter one then filter two in series. Other than that, though, modulation capabilities in Curve are impressive. There are four LFOs, a dedicated amp envelope and two assignable ones, and pretty much anything can be modulated by anything else with a really simple cross referencing system, including frequency modulation of each oscillator by another.

Curve’s simple and maybe slightly uninspiring user interface belies the power of the synth – but it’s a power that exponentially rises based on the work you put into creating interesting patches for it. Because many synths have some form of analogue modelling in them, creating imperfect waveforms and simulating unstable VCOs, Curve can sound quite thin and basic in comparision when using its basic waveforms. Draw your own, though, and the nuances of each unique waveform thickens up the sound, especially when modulating everything by everything else.

Indeed, rather than jump on the analogue modelling bandwagon, Curve is quite staunchly digital; despite being able to create weird and wonderful sounds with its modulation capabilities and custom waveforms, you can also hark back to the stone age of digital synthesis and allow aliasing in the output for that old school sound.

you can hark back to the stone age of digital synthesis and allow aliasing in the output for that old school sound

When combined with the eco setting the aliasing is really apparent and has just as much creative use as it does practical, despite Curve’s generally very good CPU usage.

Some time savers and thickeners you may be used to in other synths appear to be absent in Curve, but due to the flexibility of its design it’s usually possible to createa workaround. Despite there not being a sub oscillator, for instance, the inclusion of three ‘proper’ oscillators makes dedicating one to a low tone a fairly small compromise. Similarly, there’s not a dedicated noise generator, but any of the oscillators can be set to noise instead of waveform. The lack of arpeggiator is mitigated creatively by drawing a complicated waveform, facilitated by the grid view having a semitone setting, and then having the pitch of your oscillators modulated by it. It just might have been nice to see one more envelope generator though – to allow their number to match the number of oscillators on offer.

If you ever need inspiration for sounds you can just look to the community, too; Curve’s default patch saving setting allows your presets to synchronise with the master database in the clouds, to be shared with other registered Curve users. You can of course turn this setting off, for your ‘secret sauce’ signature sounds, but it’s a nice community focused idea and can help to open your eyes as to some of the possibilities in Curve’s semi modular design.

There’s one real weakness in Curve, and that’s the polyphony settings

There’s one real weakness in Curve, and that’s the polyphony settings. For some reason, polyphony is a global, rather than per patch setting. There’s no true mono setting, and so subsequent note on requests are ignored whilst a note is sustaining. There’s also no glide/portamento option. This is a real shame; hopefully it’s something that Cableguys can rectify in a future update, because at the moment it really hinders what is a otherwise a great synth.


Curve’s a great synth for the somewhat adventurous; what amounts to a semi modular design and a learn as you play approach to waveform generation leads to unique sounds with a lot of depth. Its inadequecies when it comes to monophony let it down somewhat, but in general it’s a great addition to the plugin world and a welcome change to the overcrowed analogue modelling market – and its community focused patch system means there’re always new sounds to dip into.

Chipsounds 1.5

Review: Plogue Chipsounds 1.5

To a particular subset of the population, those whose formative years fell inside the 80s and early 90s, the blips and bloops of the primitive sound chips of classic computer and video games machines are our lullabies. Something primitive endears sounds of our childhoods to us irrevocably, and thus ‘chip tune’, the art and science of utilising those sounds to create music, even today sounds magical – but yet, not just to the people who were around at the time. Plogue are firm advocates of both the art and the science of chip tune, and have done their best to create the ultimate emulation of 15 classic sound chips. How successful were they?

Chip tune really is both an art and a science. Much more involved than simply running a few synths through a bit crusher, classic sound chips like the Commodore 64 SID have idiosyncracies that not only define their sound, but inform composition styles best suited to them.

classic sound chips like the Commodore 64 SID have idiosyncracies that not only define their sound, but inform composition styles best suited to them

Chipsounds combines two approaches in an attempt to create the most authentic emulations of the 15 instruments it offers – oversampled oscillators and mathematical emulations of the chip characteristics are combined with sampling some of the more idiosyncratic chips’ waveforms and characteristics – striking a balance between creating the most organic emulation and capturing the real world eccentricities that it would require chaos theory levels of computing power to accurately synthesise. To all intents and purposes, the results are uncannily similar – the only thing belying the sounds in the end is the character given to the audio by the original enclosures and speakers involved.

The ominous silhouettes that are conjured by selecting the various ambiguously lettered soundchips include Nintendo’s NES and Gameboy, Commodore 64 and 16, Atari’s 2600 and ST, the Spectrum 128, and the BBC Micro

In what is presumably an exercise in lawsuit avoidance, care is taken not to be too explicit about the exact systems Chipsounds emulates. The ominous silhouettes that are conjured by selecting the various ambiguously lettered soundchips include Nintendo’s NES and Gameboy, Commodore 64 and 16, Atari’s 2600 and ST, the Spectrum 128, and the BBC Micro.  There are even more obscure console and arcade sound chips on offer, and interestingly not only a Casio VL-1 keyboard chip, but a chip appropriated by Korg in, amongst other things, the Poly 800.

Of course, the original chips that Chipsounds emulates were limited by low bit depth and sample rate, low polyphony, and various other restrictions. Chipsounds allows you to circumvent some of these limitations in the name of usefulness, but the manual does its best to point out practices you should keep to if you want to stay faithful to the originals. One of the most conspicious of these limitations is pitch accuracy, and you can choose to either work with their limitations or use a pitch perfect ‘fantasy’ version when selecting the chip.

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